Politicians across the political divide have expressed their shock and sadness over the death of Sir David Amess, the long-serving Conservative MP for Southend West. The 69-year old was killed as a result of a stabbing incident which took place on Friday 15 October in a constituency surgery held in a Methodist church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex.
A 25-year old man, later identified as Ali Harbi Ali, a British national of Somali heritage was arrested after the attack on suspicion of murder. Ali was later detained under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Metropolitan Police released a statement highlighting a “potential link to Islamist extremism.”
Sir David’s death has also sparked a series of political debates about the safety and security of lawmakers, the level of abuse politicians receive, and the increasingly aggressive and confrontational nature of political discourse in the UK.
The attack on Sir David has raised alarm bells for the UK’s politicians and security services, as it is the second time a serving MP has been murdered in five years, after the murder of Jo Cox by a neo-Nazi in 2016. Furthermore, it raises the question of whether there are enough resources available to protect Britain’s 650 elected representatives as they go about their weekly constituency duties.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has asked the police forces to review security arrangements for MPs, however, Ms Patel believes that this will not end face-to-face meetings between MPs and the public, stating “we live in an open society, a democracy, where we (MPs) are accessible to the people and that is right and proper.”
Despite this, Tobias Ellwood, MP for Bournemouth East and Chair of the Defence Select Committee has recommended that MPs pause in-person constituency surgeries following Sir David’s killing and instead hold them virtually. James Duddridge, the Tory MP for Rochford and Southend East (the adjacent constituency to Sir David’s), said virtual surgeries “will not happen”. He told BBC News that MPs will continue meeting constituents and being “open and accessible”. It was later announced that MPs will be offered security guards to protect their constituency surgeries after the death of Sir David Amess.
Many have observed the declining levels of quality and civility in British political debates, as divisive issues such as the 2016 Brexit referendum have sowed major divisions. Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle wrote in The Observer ‘the quality of political discourse must change’, whilst many other MPs have called for a softening of the country’s political rhetoric. Whilst the police have not linked Sir David’s murder to the issue of rampant online abuse faced by MPs, some lawmakers have blamed social media platforms for contributing to the coarsening political environment. A group of Tory MPs have even called for the upcoming Online Safety Bill to go further and prevent social media users from posting anonymously.
One of Sir David’s life’s missions was championing for Southend-on-Sea to be given city status. He spent nearly two decades of his career advocating for this cause, mentioning it at nearly every opportunity. City status for Southend is seen as an opportunity to attract tourism and investment, improve the economy, and raise the civic pride of its constituents. As a tribute to Sir David, his lifelong ambition was realized when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced to the MP’s in the House of Commons that the Queen had agreed to grant Southend a “city status it so clearly deserves.”
By Jesse Cheto